Ford created a lot of “buzz” surrounding the Mustang before the show with rumours of a Bullitt version of the 2019 car to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Steve McQueen’s famous film of the same name. Not only did they display the new version of the current car, but it also shared the stand with the actual, un-restored car used in the movie and driven by McQueen. A great marketing coup by Ford and a cool addition to the Mustang range.
Reintroduction of the Ranger mid-size pick-up to compete with the Chevy/GMC Colorado and Canyon was important news at the show. The Ranger will be available in XL, Lariat and FX4 Off Road trim levels. The FX4 displayed on the stand in an ugly gold/tan colour frankly looked a bit dull and the large, black plastic grille gave us a feeling of low cost. Photos we have seen of the XL and Lariat are more appealing and project greater value. Power is provided by a 2.3L EcoBoost 4 cylinder with direct injection mated with a 10-speed transmission. It will be interesting to see how these mid-size trucks impact sales of their larger and more profitable siblings.
Also new at the show was the Ecosport small SUV that will slot in under the Escape. The styling has a family similarity with the Escape, but with softer lines and a more tightly packaged front end with greater plan view. Notably it has a side-hinged tailgate that will almost certainly be controversial. The release handle is cleverly disguised in the taillamp — perhaps too cleverly. Engines will be a 3 cylinder EcoBoost 1.0L or a naturally aspirated 4 cylinder 2.0L standard with AWD.
Also introduced at the show was a facelifted version of the Edge, featuring a new front end, liftgate and taillamps. The new, wider grille is now separated from the headlamps. More, high tech features have been integrated and a new, sporty ST model added to the range – for reasons best known to the Ford planners……….
New large SUV’s from Ford, the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition, also were introduced at the show. Their sheer size is impressive and the interiors are truly cavernous – especially with the second and third row seats folded down.
Ford presented some appearance updates on the F150 pickup after only a couple of years in the market.
At the front a new grille, bumper and headlights give the truck an even wider, bolder look, more like the well-received Super Duty version. At the rear new rear lamps are also aimed to provide a bolder look. On the mechanical side, a 3 Liter diesel engine will now be offered to fulfill a long-standing customer need. By the way, walking the stand I counted ten different grille designs for the Ford full-size pick up range. Now there is a design challenge!
Not much new on the car side of the business, although there was a production version of the beautiful Ford GT on display, alongside the actual Le Mans, class-winning racecar – dirt and battle scars still in place.
Lincoln unveiled a concept vehicle that is a precursor to the Navigator replacement scheduled to begin production in 2018. The aircraft inspired concept features one massive gull wing door on each side, along with three power-deployed steps for passenger entry. All a bit of overkill, but designed to provide full visibility of the crisp, clean and luxurious interior. The load compartment was largely occupied by a ridiculous clothing/travel case that fully blocked any rear visibility. Sometimes the designers get carried away…..
The exterior is bold, yet simple and elegant. The front end is massive and intimidating, featuring a really big version of the latest Lincoln grille. The wheels evoke an aircraft turbine. Those doors are truly massive and when open might well present a big problem in the average garage. Never the less, the design concept works well and we look forward to seeing the real thing. And yes, rumour has it that the body may be aluminium like its pick up cousin.
As usual, the snow and the cold weather arrived just in time. After a very mild December, Mother Nature remembered that all the international journalists were due in Detroit for the auto show, so she turned on an icy blast and just enough snow to be a nuisance. The show itself was one of contrasts. After very strong sales in 2015 where an all-time US sales record of almost 17.5 million units was set, you would expect an almost euphoric atmosphere. Instead there were some notable companies missing from the floor, a good deal of space was dedicated to suppliers and for some reason there was a very large Rob Report stand. Another contrast was the record low fuel price at local filling stations, juxtaposed with the tremendous effort that almost every manufacturer has devoted to electric, hybrid and fuel cell propulsion. But… enough of this introspection. Let’s look at the cars.
Starting with the domestics, Ford had its usual large stand — lots of cars and trucks, but not much new or exciting. The Fusion facelift should help maintain the great momentum that this well designed mid-sized car has earned, but frankly it was hard to spot the differences without one of the old models alongside.
Two of the more interesting vehicles were hidden away on a mezzanine floor. The new, even bolder version of the Raptor Off-Road pick-up truck and alongside, the Focus RS, which is new in the US market in 2016.
The Lincoln stand was remote from the parent company this year and featured the return of the Continental as a full size four-door sedan. At least Ford has come to realize the power of the classic model names from the old glory days, so maybe they will get rid of the ‘alphabet soup’ on the other Lincoln models too — MKC, MKX, MKZ etc, etc. Alas, Cadillac is probably too far down that road to go in a similar direction and they are too hell bent on chasing the German manufacturers. The design is not as bold as the original concept, but it is clearly a Lincoln and presents a fresh look. The strong belt moulding incorporates the ‘fixed’ door handles and integrates the door mirrors. The door latches are electronic and just require finger contact to release. Similarly on the inside the doors are opened with just the push of a button. Some points of contention: The grille looks like a cross between a Jaguar and a Kia and the taillights are pure Dodge ‘racetrack’. Why? The 5 small, rectangular headlights on each side are cool, but they look rather like an Acura.
General Motors had little in the way of new mainstream products, but they did show the production version of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt. Some people said that the styling is similar to the BMW i3, but if so, I would say the Bolt wins hands down.
The Cadillac stand featured the new XT5 SUV. This is an evolutionary replacement for the SRX (more alphabet soup confusion) and clearly follows the Cadillac design theme. Arguably not as attractive is its predecessor, it is further let down by a mediocre interior.
It was left to Buick to provide some flare and excitement for GM. Evolving from last year’s Avenir 4 door concept, Buick displayed the Avista concept. The Avista is a large 2 door, 4-seat coupe that is even more striking than the Avenir. Its dark blue paint job appeared to be inches deep and accentuated the sweeping lines and bold features. The shape of the DLO* was gorgeous and it was highlighted by tasteful bright trim. This is the kind of car we would all like to see built, but how big is the market for large two door cars??? Quel dommage!
*DLO: This is an acronym for ‘Day Light Opening’ and is used to describe the graphic appearance of the vehicle’s side glass. The DLO is the most important graphic element of the vehicle’s design and provides a major contrasting surface to accentuate a form. Further emphasis may be created by outlining the DLO with bright trim. By concealing the A-Pillars and/or rear-most pillars with flush glass or other treatments, the DLO may be extended to include the front and/or rear screens. This design treatment works best with a light coloured car, dark tinted glass and blacked out pillars.
GM is doing some good work in the design studios; the new Buick LaCrosse just a few feet away from the Avista is a very nicely executed full size car. Nothing extreme or extravagant, just a really nice car – perfect for the Buick customers.
For Fiat Chrysler Automobiles the main event was the introduction of the new Pacifica minivan. Chrysler invented the segment back in 1983 and has dominated sales ever since. Ford and GM dropped out of the market, but Toyota and Honda are close on Chrysler’s heals. The all-new people hauler, available with a hybrid powertrain, is planned to replace both Chrysler and Dodge versions of the prior model and consolidate FCA’s position in the segment. In the short term the Dodge Caravan will be continued to fully assess the potential ongoing demand for the old model. The new design is strong with a front face reminiscent of the 200 sedan. It also comes laden with features, including foot-actuated sliding doors, touch screens in the back for kids video games and even a built in vacuum cleaner!
Also new on the FCA stand was the Fiat 124 Spider. From certain angles you can clearly see the shared Mazda MX-5/Miata underpinnings, but overall the design is fresh and should attract some new customers to the Fiat stores. We like it better than the Mazda!
There was a relatively large Alfa Romeo presence on the FCA stand with four Giulia Quadrifoglio models on display. The car certainly looks great (especially this model), but it is going to be quite hard for Alfa to penetrate this highly competitive segment with a brand that is essentially new to the market. It will also be hard for Americans to master pronunciation of the full name!
The weather is cold and snowing. Temperatures are well below freezing and the steam is billowing from the manhole covers in the streets. Ahhh, Detroit in January! But, never mind the conditions outside, the atmosphere inside Cobo Hall is hot and vibrant. The European industry might still be sluggish, but North America is back and roaring on all 8 cylinders. Fuel prices are low, but Corporate Average Fuel Economy targets remain high and are looming on the horizon. Trucks are selling fast – the bigger the better; SUV’s and CUV’s are selling in every possible size and permutation. There are 700+ horsepower, 200 mph supercharged cars at affordable prices; there are electric cars; hybrids and even ‘almost ready for prime time’ fuel cell concept cars. It is chaos out there. Just the way we like it.
Hang on for a quick ride (in 6 parts…) through the good, the bad and the ugly as we cruise the first big auto show of 2015.
Starting with the North American domestic manufacturers, Ford made a good deal of noise (literally and metaphorically) with the stunning new GT, plus a Shelby GT350 version of the Mustang and a Raptor version of the new aluminum-bodied F Series pick up – all displayed in an interesting shade of dark blue.
The GT is clearly designed with racing in mind and the plan is to be at Le Mans in 2016 to take on Ferrari again in celebration of the first Ford GT40 victory 50 years before. The car looks a bit too long in the wheelbase (a function of engine placement for the twin-turbo V6 no doubt), but overall the result is dramatic and even at an expected price in the $150 to $200,000 range, Ford should have no trouble selling the 300 cars required for homologation and could easily reach the probable maximum of 1,000 cars destined for retail customers. Among the many interesting features, there are several standouts. Key is the “flying buttress” roll bar that spans the wide rear quarters of the car and bridges the dramatic aero tunnels on either side of the vehicle that extend from the doors to the rear wing. The doors themselves hinge forward and upward adding to the drama. The tail lamps also are intriguing – a large ring of red at the end of a turbine-like housing that has a mysterious vent down the center. Add big black wheels and what’s not to like about this monster.
The GT 350 Mustang echoes some of the GT’s front-end thematics and with 500 horsepower it should be more than enough to satisfy those of us who cannot quite stretch all the way to the real GT.
On the Lincoln stand we saw the introduction of the new MKX SUV based on the Explorer. Lincoln has come a long way towards re-establishing itself as a bona fide luxury brand with some genuinely nice products, tastefully styled and carefully executed. The MKC, mid-sized SUV, introduced at the last Detroit show has made a good impression in the market and the expectation is that the MKX will consolidate this position. The Lincoln Motor Company – as they like to call it – has a long way to go, but they are certainly on the right track.
The guys at Cadillac frequently dismiss Lincoln, saying that it is not really a competitor for them. The Blue Oval guys are determined to prove them wrong. They are making progress and the new MK C compact crossover, which debuted at the Los Angeles show, and was featured at Detroit. It is a step in the right direction. Certainly compact crossover vehicles like the MK C were much in evidence with several manufacturers including Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche. The MK C styling is robust, but elegant, with a 360-degree feature line, a wide stance and a large tailgate opening that includes the entire taillights. Anecdotally, there are 4 different ways to release the tailgate.
Ford shocked most industry observers with the reveal of its next generation F150 and the news that it will have an all-aluminum body. The 2015 F150 has bold ‘chunky’ styling inside and out and will be available for sale in the 4th quarter of this year. The dramatic weight saving of around 700 pounds (318 kg), combined with better dent resistance and improved corrosion resistance is a real game changer in the segment. If everything works out as planned, this technology leap could put Ford as much as 8 years ahead of the competition in the race to meet future fuel economy mandates. What has everyone scratching their heads, however, is the economics. With annual volumes in the 800,000 unit range, will the increased material cost and infrastructure changes required for aluminum pay off for Ford.
Ford’s other big news at the show was the new 2015 Mustang. Although exhibiting some styling cues from the Evos concept, there is no doubt that this car is all Mustang. The nose is higher and bulkier than we would like — most likely for pedestrian impact reasons. This, plus the relatively high belt line, makes the roofline look artificially low and the greenhouse on the small side. The three vertical tail lamps on each side are pure Mustang and they flash sequentially — of course. One other facet of the design is the bodyside feature line that is interrupted by the rear wheel arch flare, but then continues for just a few inches in the rear quarter panel. Just like the Taurus and just as strange……….. We would like to have seen tighter gaps between the tyres and the wheel openings, especially with the bigger wheel/tyre combinations. The interior maintains all the right Mustang features with the double brow, large round gauges and now huge toggle switches in the centre stack. It is well executed, but lacks the finesse of a typical European interior.